Learn How TxDOT Saved $8+ Million Using DMS Retrofit Upgrades

Posted by Mike McKay on Jun 3, 2016 1:00:00 PM
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Actual Cost Analysis from Texas DOT, 2009-2014

TxDOT-Retrofit.pngBeginning in 2009, South Texas Department of Transportation districts began retrofitting existing signs utilizing retrofit upgrade options either to replace older technology or to update troublesome signs. Through this time period, the tracking of average installed costs versus new installation costs was provided by contractors in 2014.

This comparison is based on each sign's capability of projecting 3 lines of 18 characters, 18 “high characters in amber color. The new DMS option does not reflect any feature upgrades to the signs each district may have added. The new DMS pricing is the minimum amount on the current purchasing contract at that time for four years. Both options were front access type signs. Excluded was the superstructure or support costs - given that retrofitting would use existing structures, the cost is not evaluated here. Contractors and the DOT estimates that new structures for overhead applications run $150,000-$200,000.


Recorded Comparative Costs, Retrofit Upgrade vs. New DMS
Texas DOT, 1/1/2009 - 12/31/2014

  Retrofit Upgrade TxDOT New DMS
Initial Cost of Sign Package $39,000 $46,790
DMS for Factory Acceptance Testing Included $1,500
Controller Mounting, Without Cabinet Included $600
Transport DMS or Retrofit to Site Included $3,700
Removing Existing DMS or Internal Parts Included $4,500
Instal New DMS (Labor and Crane) Included $5,000
Mounting Brackets and Accessories (Hardware Only) N/A $4,500

Cables Between Sign and Controller or Between Sign and
Modem + Cable Entry + Possible DMS Modifications

N/A $750
Traffic Control During Dismantling 1 Day 1 Day
Traffic Control During Installation 1/2 Day  1 Day 
Testing & Commissioning by DMS Supplier Included  Included 
TOTAL COST $39,000 $67,340


It is difficult to accurately assess the ongoing costs of repairs and maintenance needed in all signs. The parts, maintenance, and labor were less than $50,000 for five years in the retrofitted signs, according to part records and contractor estimates. With no ventilation system needed and LED electrical efficiency markedly higher in retrofit upgrades, further assessment would indicate electrical usage in South Texas to be 50% less (this was not factored due to lack of records). Overall, additional financial highlights include:

Number of DMS Retrofitted in South Texas Since 2009 297 TxDOT-Retrofit2.png
Total Cost of Retrofitted DMS $11,583,000
Total Cost of New DMS $20,089,080
Total Savings $8,506,080
Minimum Remaining DMS Retrofits TxDOT to Award
(Estimated as of 12/31/2014)
Total Potential Savings $2,834,000
Combined Savings $11,349,080
Total Real & Potential Savings Represents
(New DMS vs. Retrofit Upgrades)
169 / 291


Features Comparison

  SESA Retrofit TxDOT New DMS Purchase
Installation on Existing Structures Install ready, no weight added New sign heavier, structural analysis required
Technology Surface mounted LED Through hole LED
Controller Multi DMS controller with WYZIWIG screen,
web based software, and maintenance indicators
1070 type controller
Controller & Modem Location Roadside controller cabinet Mounted within DMS housing, lane closure
may be required
Maintenance Access Front access, 3 character door design Front access - one piece lift door, entire sign face
Power Consumption 35% - 50% more energy efficient Higher consumption due to LED design and 
ventilation system
Ventilation No Ventilation Needed
No additional extraneous maintenance cost,
no associated parts cost
Filters/regular maintenance, lane closure, higher
operational costs
Delivery Time 45-day average for South Texas 150-day average for South Texas
DMS Letter Capacity 3 lines of 15 or 18 characters, 18" high 3 lines of 18 characters, 18" high


TxDOT-Retrofit3.pngSince January 1, 2015, South Texas DOT districts continue to deploy retrofit upgrades at similar cost-benefit margins, varying by location and physical requirements. Advancements in field experience and technique has led to increased production time with some regions completing upgrade installations in less than a day. With the implementation of color retrofit upgrades soon to be instituted, further cost-analysis can be done to compare new color DMS in similar size and display capability.

A current financial assessment is underway with the Arizona DOT, who have completed 50 signs from 2014 to now, with nearly all completed in less than four hours of on-site work. Once the metropolitan area signs are completed, accurate numbers will be available based on AzDOT assessments. AzDOT self-installs all retrofit upgrades with in-house ITS maintenance personnel.

Our retrofit upgrades have been utilized all across the country in every climate, including inside the Arctic Circle of Alaska. From the devastatingly humid to the bitter cold, all climates have unique aspects to consider when evaluating best use and value dynamics.  

Do you have any experiences with evaluating the short and long term value of new DMS implementations? How about any feedback on future design or installation analyses for a unique application, location, or environment? Share your comments below! 


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Topics: Retrofit Upgrade